While gearing up in 2004 for growth beyond its home region of New England, Maine Mutual Group (MMG) determined that its agent rating tools needed an update. "Although we offered proprietary real-time rating online, our agents were adopting multicarrier web-enabled comparative rating applications," recalls Stacy Shaw, who at the time was the Presque Isle, Maine-based P&C insurer's VP and information systems manager. "Naturally, we wanted quotes for our products to appear along with our competitors."
To implement a solution that could expand as MMG ($119 million in annual premium income) grew, the carrier started by building out its internal systems. The work included the continuation of the deployment of a service-oriented architecture (SOA) that was begun in 2003 using the Microsoft (Redmond, Wash.) .NET Framework and Visual Basic/Visual Studio. "For the comparative rating project, three developers from our 21-person IT department were devoted to the infrastructure," which includes the company's Microsoft-enabled LAN technologies and IBM (Armonk, N.Y.) AS/400 mainframe, notes Shaw.
In early 2005 MMG evaluated comparative rating vendors. "At that time, about 25 percent of our agents were using Vertafore's PL Rating solution, making it the leader in our market area," Shaw comments. "It was also important that Vertafore's [Bothell, Wash.] products were mature and its technology aligned with ours."
Although MMG anticipated that implementing the Vertafore solution would take three months once deployment began in October 2005, the timeframe was nearly doubled due to the amount of testing required, Shaw acknowledges. But the April 2006 go-live ultimately went smoothly, he adds. "Our diligence resulted in response times of 10 to 12 seconds, which rivaled the largest carriers using Vertafore's systems," Shaw says. "Most important, our transaction volume exceeded expectations within the first week and continued ahead of schedule over the following weeks."
With the infrastructure foundation in place, new implementations have followed. For example, by January 2008 agent demand for real-time connectivity with MMG was strong. "We leveraged the functionality we'd built for comparative rating to adopt Vertafore's TransactNOW platform," Shaw relates. "We had the five most popular features implemented in about a month."
Moving Into New Markets
Upon moving into a new market - Pennsylvania - MMG discovered strong adoption among area agents of both Vertafore and Webcetera's EZLynx in that state. Consequently, MMG integrated Pennsylvania into its existing Vertafore systems from February to April 2010. Meanwhile, MMG partnered with Webcetera and went live with the Flower Mound, Texas-based vendor's EZLynx in July.
"Continuing to build a scalable SOA platform cut our EZLynx integration time by at least 40 percent," observes Shaw. "Now we're implementing a scrum project management methodology to implement technologies faster and more frequently with a goal of embracing change."
Also in early 2010, MMG added Vertafore's new Consumer Rate Quotes module. "Here, again, our infrastructure investments reduced the implementation to about a month, enabling us to be one of the first to adopt this technology," Shaw says. "Agencies love the product because they don't otherwise have the resources to create a real-time rating tool for their customers."
Not surprisingly, the combination of online technologies have streamlined MMG's operations as well as garnered new business. "Our data entry costs have been reduced 65 percent," Shaw affirms. "In addition, policy applications are processed faster. And, of course, the agent and customer rating applications provide us with a larger market presence."
Going forward MMG's goals include entering Virginia in 2011 as well as developing further geographic diversity. Within each new market, Shaw says, the leading agency tools will be leveraged for growth.
"We've doubled in size during the past 10 years," he reports. "And we intend to be operating in at least eight or nine states over the next 10 [years]. Having the back-end technology to support the adoption of the right agent tools is a huge part of our growth plan."
CASE STUDY SNAPSHOT
- Company: Maine Mutual Group (MMG; Presque Isle, Maine; $110 million in annual premium income).
- Lines of Business: P&C.
- Vendor/Technology: Vertafore's (Bothell, Wash.) PL Rating and Webcetera's (Flower Mound, Texas) EZLynx comparative rating solutions.
- Challenge: Enable growth by providing independent agents with leading-edge comparative rating tools.
Anne Rawland Gabriel is a technology writer and marketing communications consultant based in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area. Among other projects, she's a regular contributor to UBM Tech's Bank Systems & Technology, Insurance & Technology and Wall Street & Technology ... View Full Bio